The Rogers Family Company (www.rogersfamilyco.com) a California-based, international roaster of Fairly Traded and Direct Trade gourmet coffee - is deploying a ˜green army of billions of red earthworms to create nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer to help small coffee farmers and promote organic coffee production in Central America and Africa.
The earthworms which digest and help transform coffee waste into organic fertilizer - are part of the Lincoln, Calif.-based companys longstanding goal to encourage organic, green coffee production and help workers, their families and protect nature in regions such as Central America, Mexico, Sumatra, Papua New Guinea and Rwanda. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rogers-Gourmet-Coffee-Tea/61734534501#!/album.php?aid=216714&id=61734534501
In Boquete, Panama, the earthworms have also helped restore residents groundwater, drinking water supply and livelihood. In addition, bird populations, native fish, frogs, reptiles and small aquatic mammals are again flourishing in the Caldera River ecosystem. The entire food chain has improved. The fertilizer process utilizes the prodigious digestive talents of the common California red wriggly worm (Eisenia foetida).
Years ago, the companys green coffee buyer Pete Rogers wanted to reduce the excessive amount of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers used to produce coffee. He noted that mineral rich coffee pulp was wasted in dormant piles or often contaminated the groundwater used by coffee farmers, workers and their families.
Rogers funded the project to transfer the earthworm technology successfully used in Chiapas, Mexico, and Selva Negra, Nicaragua to the Rogers Family Companys model organic farm in Panama: Finca Santa Barbara (named for company co-founder Barbara Rogers).
The goal was to improve the system and treat, transform and recycle some 5,000 tons of coffee pulp contaminating the Caldera River in Boquete, Panama into a nutrient-rich fertilizer to give as an incentive to small coffee holders and promote organic coffee production, said Dr. Mario Serracin, Ph.D, the Rogers Family Co.s agronomist.
Challenges are opportunities, added Serracin.
Now, the Rogers Family Company (RFC) has introduced the California red wriggly worm that digests mounds of coffee pulp (the waste product from wet mill coffee production) to brew excellent environmental stewardship as well as more flavorful coffee on two continents.
In 2009, the company transplanted its innovative earthworm project in collaboration with some of its partners in Rwanda. At Karengera Coffee, The RFC uses native Rwandese worms and in Butare with the USAID coffee research project: California reds.
Our biologists went to work to create a sustainable solution, said Rogers. We also wanted to demonstrate benefits of organic coffee production to encourage other local farms to adopt organic methods and reduce their reliance on pesticides that interfere with food chains and the environment.
At Finca Santa Barbara, Rogers recognized the potential of the soil on 94 acres of abandoned cattle land. The Rogers Family Company purchased the land, released 12 million earthworms for composting the communitys waste, dug irrigation channels and planted native tree species to blend with 82,000 coffee trees.
Farm workers battled with sprouting cattle grass because the Rogers Family Company refused to deploy chemical herbicides. Much of the land re-grew to its natural state. Now, on this former wasteland, a shade-grown, organic coffee farm has emerged, surrounded by a rainforest harboring 42 species of birds. Clean spring water has re-emerged in the village of Jaramillo where it had previously dried up.
The earthworm project has the advantage of reducing piles of pulp that accumulate at coffee wetmills, with resulting waste water washing down into rainforest streams.
In Rwanda, workers improved the soil with a combination of earthworms and so-called Effective Microorganisms (EM) technology decomposing the rich pulp. The farmers turned and tilled the pulp mixture until the organic fertilizer was ready to apply to coffee trees.
But first, the fertilizer needed blessing. The Karengera Coffee Washing Station invited traditional drummers and dancers along with Rwandas Western Province top government authorities. They performed several dances that are normally performed for the king. They sang, Ikawa, Ifumbire, Amafaranga(Coffee & Fertilizer = Money) and invoked the magic of soil fertility.
The benefits of earthworms improving aeration and nutrients in soils have been known for generations. Their environmental effects were even cited by Charles Darwin in his 1881 treatise, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms.
We changed the traditional system of vermicomposting which was not taking off, recalled Serracin. The worms were thrown into the hot coffee pulp. Now the pulp is removed from the wet mill soon after processing and treated with effective microorganisms, molasses and calcium. Once it cools down, it is fed to the redworms, which transform it into humus. Each worm is capable of digesting an amount of food equivalent to its own body weight daily.
Serracin and the company have also learned to increase the reproductive rate of the red wriggly worms by mixing in high-protein fish meal with the coffee pulp.
They started with 100 worms and now have more than a billion eating, digesting and converting pulp to rich humus. The humus contains a rich mix of macro- and micro-nutrients and humic acids that are essential for soil health, said Serracin.
The castings (waste) are water-soluble, allowing scientists and farm workers to create a spray known as wormtea that is used in the nursery for germination and for transplantation of coffee seedlings, said Serracin. Working with colleagues at the Rogers Family Co., Serracin has studied water quality in relation to organic coffee production in Panama since 2002.
These worm farms also play a role in producing simple, inexpensive Biogas systems that turn waste water into clear water for irrigation and gas to fuel dryers.
The earthworm projects are part of the Rogers Family Company's commitment to grow coffee in concert with nature and protect farmers, rainforest, native plants, birds and other wildlife including endangered species. The Rogers do not utilize full sun farming that eliminates native shade trees and concentrates on a single variety of coffee tree. This practice results in heavily fertilized monoculture farms that degrade native wildlife, plants and water supplies.